Using Rhythm to Bridge the GapThere is something about rhythm that seems to help the brain learn. American students are often encouraged to make up a rap song using material they are memorizing, such as the names of the planets or the classifications in science.
Part of the science of learning is that the right hemisphere of the brain needs to become engaged in the learning activity in order for mastery to be achieved. Using the rhythms in songs and rhymes activates the right hemisphere of the brain and encourages the learning process.
Rhythm is a concrete way for the brain to process the not-so-concrete aesthetics of speech and language. While the tongue may stumble over diphthongs and consonant blends, the brain can still grasp the meaning of the phrase and understand the sentence structure. Rhythm also places a subtle pressure on the brain to “keep up”. The student starts to think ahead to the next words, so that the rhythm is not broken.
Most languages have nursery rhymes. Nursery rhymes songs teach infants and toddlers about parts of their body, concrete real-world items such as the sun, moon, dogs, and ideas, such as love and fear. Nursery rhymes in English accomplish the same purpose and easily transition into the classroom. Students can dramatize the rhyme (Humpty Dumpty had a great fall) and better identify rhyming sounds, and voila, a lesson is born.
Repetition is Easily Excused in MusicAs teachers, we all know repetition is the evil twin of great learning. Music makes that so much easier! By nature, music and rhymes are repetitive, so that lesson can be coached in a much more palatable form when put to music.
The predictive nature of repetition is one of the most valuable teaching tools of all. Students know that something is coming, and they are ready to deliver the chorus with repetitive lines. Whether you are singing a song about the days of the week or “Hakuna Matata” from the musical “Lion King”, your students are exposed to repeated phrases and rhyming, and are engaged in a fun way to learn a foreign language.
Melody is A UnifierWhether your students actually sing on key or out of tune, the melodic aspect of music stimulates the left hemisphere of the brain, resulting in more comprehensive learning. The old song “I Will Always Love You” comes to mind. It was popular when I was in college, and the radio played it all the time. In the university cafeteria, you would never notice the song was playing until about 50 people would launch into the chorus after each verse – all without planning or conscious decision. It was automatic. Teaching your students the “hook” in popular, age-appropriate songs, often keeps them motivated to learn the rest of the song as well.
Introduce your students to one of the greatest lyricists of all time – Billy Joel – and let them learn some of his songs and singalong. “A Matter of Trust” has universal meaning, just as music is a universal language in the TEFL classroom.
Mike Parsons developed a love of language language and culture from a childhood spent traveling around the globe. He currently works for Creative Word Translation Services.
Interested in more teaching tips? Click here for Top Five Icebreakers for the EFL Classroom.